Many intersex South Africans suffered isolation and shame.
Many intersex South Africans suffered isolation and shame.

'Intersex is a hidden population'

By Leanne Jansen Time of article published Aug 14, 2015

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Durban - A study which investigated attitudes of people in rural areas toward intersex people revealed a significant relationship between poor knowledge of what it was to be intersex, and having a negative attitude towards intersex people.

Many intersex South Africans suffered isolation and shame, a seminar held at the University of KwaZulu-Natal heard.

To be intersex, study author Justine van Rooyen, of the Aids Foundation of South Africa explained, was to be born with “atypical” or ambiguous genitalia or reproductive organs. An example was a person born with a vagina, but who also has undescended testes.

Intersex refers to a person’s biological sex, not sexual orientation or gender identity. Of a sample of nearly 3 000 respondents, one in 100 identified as intersex.

Interviews with intersex people by Van Rooyen yielded heartbreaking accounts of trauma. The aim of her research (submitted as her Master’s thesis), was to understand the social inclusion or exclusion of intersex South Africans, based on their social and healthcare-related experiences.

Nearly 72 percent of the respondents had no knowledge of intersexuality, and 32 percent said if their child were born intersex they would opt for a sex assignment surgery.

“Gender is a spectrum and not a dichotomy,” Van Rooyen argued. “The dynamics of social convention that hinder the integration of intersex people in society must be addressed.”

Van Rooyen explained that the current policy in South Africa was to record the birth of intersex children, and to strongly encourage parents to assign the child a gender.

She related the case of Siphokazi (not her real name), who was initially raised as a boy. No one spoke to her about why she needed to have reassignment surgery, but her uterus was removed when she was young – which now she was very resentful of.

“Karabo” described feeling like a “specimen” after a doctor used her to teach his students about intersexuality.

Van Rooyen said that her research served as a call toward “postgenderism” or autonomous gender expression which embraced deviant sexualities and freed people from the binary gender school of thought.

“The bottom line is that intersex is a hidden population… Convention and false ideals force people to make difficult choices, and bring shame and division to families,: she said.

Van Rooyen’s research recommendations:

* The AU should develop a policy for the inclusive medical management of intersex conditions.

* Sexual reproductive health materials for schools should be developed to include gender variance, and comprehensive gender education should be included in life orientation or biology lessons.

* Psychologists, counsellors and social workers should be trained on gender variance.


The facts of the matter:

Transgender: A person who does not identify with their biological sex.

Gender neutral: Someone who does not identify as a man or a woman.

Transsexual: A person who has had a sex change.

Pansexual: Someone who is romantically or sexually attracted to women, men, transgender, or transsexual people.

LGBTI: (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex)

The Mercury

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